Melle Mel Explains How Harry Belafonte Inspired Him to Write "Beat Street Breakdown"

Melle Mel Explains How Harry Belafonte Inspired Him to Write "Beat Street Breakdown"

Published Tue, February 28, 2023 at 2:16 PM EST

Legendary Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 frontman Melle Mel is currently touring the country for a lecture series on the impact of the Hip-Hop classic, 1982's groundbreaking single, "The Message."

The presentation, The 40th Anniversary of The Message and The Birth of Socially Conscious Hip-Hop, is an immersive experience co-hosted by ROCK THE BELLS' JayQuan with an emphasis on the song's continued influence, which was written by Sugar Hill Records percussionist Ed "Duke Bootee" Fletcher and Melle Mel.

During his lecture at California State University Northridge, Melle Mel also took the time to talk about his role in the landmark Hip-Hop film, 1984's Beat Street. Melle Mel penned the track, "Beat Street Breakdown" for the movie, which was executive produced by the iconic Harry Belafonte. Prior to Mel writing the song, however, he had a sit-down with Belafonte, which proved to be pivotal to his writing process.

"They didn't need us to be in the movie," Mel recalled about the film. "They just wanted us to write the song. Harry is an eloquent guy, so I'm transfixed, just listening to him."

Belafonte had long been a star by the time he served as executive producer to the film. The legendary singer/activist/actor rose to prominence in the 50's singing folk music and calypso songs like “Day-O (Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell." He also made his Broadway debut in the mid-50s, earning a Tony Award for supporting actor in the play John Murray Anderson’s Almanac. Belafonte went on to star in landmark films including Carmen Jones alongside Dorothy Dandridge and in the 1960s he became the first African American television producer. He also became a prominent fixture in the Civil Rights Movement, both in front of the camera, and more often, behind the scenes — including the time he and Sidney Poitier personally flew a suitcase full of money to Mississippi to keep Freedom Summer going.

While he didn't elaborate on exactly what was said during their conversation, Melle Mel remembers the time spent with Belafonte inspired him. "I was so inspired by his conversation," Mel recalled, adding that even still, he eventually realized the song had very little to do with the plot of Beat Street.

"When I finally saw the movie, I was like, what I wrote had nothing to do with this movie," he admitted, laughing. "But [the conversation] was inspiration."

Watch the clip below.

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